‘Waker’ successfully expands Zelda series in a cartoony blast of color
With each Nintendo system, a Zelda game that sets a new standard for adventure games appears. Just the mention of a new Zelda is comforting — like hearing a favorite distant relative is coming to visit.
It’s impossible to sum up the importance of the previous 15 years of Zelda. Each game builds on the next, preserving the spirit of the Zelda myth while adapting the technology to kick the Joneses in the ass.
This rich history has converged in “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.” It is everything a modern Zelda game should be: fun, challenging, innovative and beautiful. Its base is sound, being fundamentally similar to the Nintendo 64 incarnations, but the look is completely reinvented, endowing new joy into gaming.
The game is a living cartoon: a stylized explosion of color that moves like a symphony of Crayola. Just the sight of it makes you smile. Characters have facial expressions that say more than any dialogue could — which is good, because “Wind Waker” only uses emphatic soundbytes. Where other cell-shaded games have outlined shapes in black, “Wind Waker” wisely uses contrasts of solid color that smooth the edges. Enemies explode in puffs of purple smoke. Link leaves tiny, wet footprints after getting out of the water. There is an endless list of small details that make the game incredible.
This drastic change in style makes the game look childish, but this is not just a game for kids. Nintendo developers have to bring the younger demographic into the fold, but they have just as much responsibility to the devoted older fans, which they fulfill by incorporating the nostalgic with the new.
All Link’s favorite weapons are back and beefed up. There is a new parry sword technique allowing Link to dodge an attack and launch one of his own. The boomerang can now target multiple items in one throw. A grappling hook is used for swinging and climbing as well as hoisting sunken treasure. The new Deku Leaf also has a dual purpose: fanning powerful gusts of air and serving as parachute to glide over long distances.
The most innovative aspect of the game is the ability to link with a Game Boy Advance so a second player can control Tingle, a sprite who can help Link with hints, items and attacks. A two-player option has been absent from previous Zeldas and is much appreciated here.
The world in “Wind Waker” is huge, and the opportunity to explore its complexity should draw all gamers. Link sails from island to island through a sprawling ocean by changing the direction of the wind with a musical wand — the Wind Waker. Sailing straight across the world would take at least 15 minutes without stopping to inspect ships and islands found along the way. Sailing is sometimes boring, and sadly, the world is flat so you can’t get on the right side of the map by going past the left boundary.
I’d wager that at a later point in the game, Link can warp to various locations with certain songs as in “Ocarina of Time.” But honestly, 15 hours of play didn’t get me very far. The story in “Wind Waker” takes place in the distant future after the events from Ocarina. It can only be assumed that Link is a reincarnation of the ancient hero, but he is questing to save his sister — there has been no mention of Princess Zelda. The likely candidate for that role, should it appear, is the young pirate leader Tetra, who vaguely helps Link on his quest.
But searching to answer these questions only makes playing the game more exciting. The story of an ordinary boy drawn to an extraordinary destiny never gets old, and the combination of great stories with engaging game play ensures Zelda’s repeated success. It is an awesome and reassuring feat that a game as highly anticipated as “Wind Waker” can exceed all expectations.
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